500 miles walked from east to west across Spain to the ocean’s edge in Finisterre! 36 walking days, 3 rest days.
Day 36: Rob arrived the night before in Santiago at 11:30pm and took a taxi directly to the cool cave-like bar where I was hanging out with other Pilgrims.
The poor guy had had a 24 hour travel day flying from his sister’s in San Diego to San Francisco to Madrid to Barcelona to Santiago. He was more exhausted than us Pilgrims! So Day 36 was a rest day for both of us. We each got a room in a Monastery hostel right next to the main square where I had finished the French Way (St. James) Camino the day before.
The day before was rainy off and on but this day was sunny and beautiful, so I took Rob to the square where the Pilgrims arrive after their long trek and he got to meet some of the Pilgrims he had read about in the blog!
And as luck would have it, one of our Skyline College teaching colleagues Serena Chu-Mraz was arriving that same day with her husband Chris! They were doing the last part of the Camino and would also be getting a Compostela for completing the last 100 kilometers (60 plus miles). It was so fun giving advice to new Pilgrims who were about to walk the same road I just did. They had planned to start in the traditional last week starting place in Sarria, but since they had the time, I talked them into backing it up 40 kilometers (25 miles) to start in the gorgeous mountain town of O Cebreiro which they ended up doing.
We hung out with them sampling all the amazing seafood the Galician region was famous for.
It was really fun hanging out with them and they both spoke Spanish! A bonus for some of my new non-English speaking Pilgrim friends and less translating work for me! Hanging out with friends from home along with my new friends from the Camino was a lovely closing to the Santiago chapter of the pilgrimage. Next, Rob and I would be setting out alone to walk from Santiago to the ocean’s edge in Finisterre. It was less common to carry on after Santiago, so I figured this would be a much more solitary trek, but I was walking it with one of my favorite people on the planet who I would literally walk to the ends of the earth for, so it seemed very appropriate. 🙂
Day 37: RAIN. Lots of lots of rain. I had seen a few days of light rain in my month-plus long trek, but of course, the deluge happened on Rob’s Day 1 of walking!! It was a wet trial by fire for poor Rob but we “weathered” it with smiles.
It started out with a quiet walk along a beautiful river with a light rain.
Now it was time for Rob to relax post-finals, stop and smell the roses, and enjoy the peaceful countryside.
But then the lovely light drizzle, turned into real rain. Pouring, relentless rain. Our light rain gear was quickly failing. Rob said he could feel water running down his back and my arms and shoulders were soaked. We walked through a few tiny villages that were just a collection of houses with no stores or restaurants or even covered shelters where we could get out of the downpour. Finally, we saw signs for a bar-restaurant and sought shelter and much needed libations!
After taking off our wet rain gear, the second thing I did was to inspect Rob’s feet! I didn’t want him to have any foot issues or blisters to ruin his walk, so I inspected his feet (recall there is no foot-revulsion on the Camino!). I pushed and prodded all over his feet and toes and asked if there were any sore spots. He said one toe was bothering him, so I took out my foot first aid kit (this turned out to be one of the most important and most used things in my pack) and wrapped the toe in question in a band-aid and then wrapped it in a second another layer in stretchy breathable kinesiology tape.
We waited for 2 hours but the rain just seemed to be coming down harder! More soggy Pilgrims came in and all checked into the albergue connected to the bar-restaurant we were sitting in, but if we wanted to make it to the ocean in the time before our flight to the Canary Islands, we had no choice but to soldier on. We wistfully watched some Pilgrims hopping in a taxi, but after some warm food and a couple of beers, we put back on our soggy rain gear and headed out into the storm to walk another several hours to the village of Vilaserio. It was so windy, rainy and ridiculous that we pretty much just laughed our whole way through it.
Finally, we arrived at our albergue Casa Vella! We were saved!
The owner of the place greeted us and she was so nice. The albergue was her family home she had grown up in and there was a lovely warm fire crackling in the hearth with wet Pilgrim shoes lined around the edge so I added my soggy Tevas.
We only had 3 days and 2 nights for Rob and my mini-Camino to Finisterre, and I was determined that he have the albergue bunk bed experience, but when our host asked if we wanted to be in the 10-bed dormitory downstairs or the empty room upstairs that included two beds that were not bunk beds, I chose the latter and had no regrets!
That night, Rob got to have the communal Pilgrim dinner experience which for me is one of the highlights of albergue-living! We had a lovely dinner with 3 Germans, a woman from Switzerland, and a woman from Texas. Everyone spoke English with enough fluency that we had a dinner filled with jokes and lots of laughs as we all shared the different funny Camino and albergue experiences we had had along the way. Santiago is the end point of several other Caminos, so some of these Pilgrims had come from different routes, so it was really cool to hear about their experiences on some of the lesser traveled ways, and I knew I would also be looking into doing some of these other Caminos in my future.
Day 38: After the rough weather the day before, we walked out into a lovely sunny day the next morning. Some grey clouds remained along the way so the potential of rain still loomed, but things were looking great and we enjoyed every dry moment of the walk with the birds singing and the sun shining.
An hour or so down the road, we caught up with Regina from Germany, one of our albergue companions from the night before and we walked and chatted for a few hours.
We walked into one village and were greeted by a doggie-kitty welcome crew. It seemed everyone put their differences aside and got along on the Camino.
The day continued to be stunning and I was so happy that Rob was able to experience it.
As we walked, we could see the effects of the intense storm from the day before.
As we started gaining some elevation and climbing some steeper hills, Regina said goodbye as she stopped to rest and Rob and I carried on. Rob was doing great on his second day and was going at my same pace. He was jumping into Pilgrim-life very well.
Further down the road, we came across a sheep herder who was moving his flock towards us. Just another taste of slow-paced pastoral life on the Camino.
As we carried on with our walk that day, we experienced some moments of very light showers but overall the day was beautiful and Rob and I largely had the Camino to ourselves, so I did something I hadn’t done my entire walk: I played music on my phone speakers (no headphones), so we had a lovely soundtrack for much of our walk that day.
At the end of our walk day (we covered 27 kilometers or about 17 miles), we arrived in the small village of Hospital which had one albergue. We were one of the last Pilgrims to arrive that day and the owner, who didn’t speak any English, asked me: “Tenemos una habitación con una litera y un baño privado o tenemos una habitación compartida con baño compartido. ¿Cual preferirías?” Without consulting Rob, I quickly responded “el dormitorio” hoping that he was not understanding the exchange. He didn’t ask any questions until we arrived in our dormitory room with 3 bunk beds and there were two guys taking naps snoring loudly, and the room was warm and smelled like feet. Then he turned to me and asked, “Did that woman say there was a private room, but you chose this one???” Busted!! :). I wanted Rob to have the FULL albergue experience! He was less than pleased with me, but he sucked it up like a good Pilgrim and I was loving every minute of it! Welcome to the Camino Rob!!
After a few hours, it was time for communal Pilgrim’s dinner. I had had a cold and then after that day walking in the torrential rains, I had completely lost my voice! I could speak in a harsh forced whisper so soldiered on and chatted with the Pilgrims next to us. They were from all over: Italy, the Netherlands, but luckily they all spoke English which was a little easier on my tired vocal chords and brain. I felt fine but sounded like Marge Simpson after chain smoking 5 packs of cigarettes! :).
We ended the night hanging out with some of the locals in the one bar in town and getting ready for our last day of walking the next day. It was all ending too soon (I know that sounds weird after over a month of walking), but I wasn’t ready for it all to be over, and it was so fun to experience this with Rob who always makes everything fun.
Day 39: The last day of the Camino. What a bittersweet day!!!! Today was the day we would reach the water and what the Spaniards at one time thought was the edge of the world. We reached the lovely town of Cee which sat on an inlet and it was my first sort of glimpse of the ocean. It was more bay than ocean but we were getting close.
But our view of the water was brief as we cut back inland toward Finesterre.
Then, just as we were about 10 minutes from reaching our first views of the ocean proper, coming towards us were two Pilgrims I had run into quite a few times along the way. Mateo from Italy and Daniel from Germany:
We said our goodbyes, and then Rob and I could see something on the horizon…
I’m a California native and have lived in coastal cities my entire life and even though I had just walked across a land not my own, it felt like a home coming.
The smell of salty air was intoxicating and carried with it all the memories of my childhood growing up in the southern coastal town of Ventura and now it mingled with my new memories of the Camino and what I was about to accomplish.
However, we were not quite there yet! We could see the peninsula we still needed to walk to the end of to arrive at the lighthouse in Finisterre, the kilometer zero marker of the walk. I had about one more hour to savor the last of the walk, and we were in no rush.
We stopped for a coffee and to drink in the salt air and ocean view. From the top of the Pyrenees and across many others peaks and valleys and then down to ocean level, I had traversed many ups and downs to get there.
We carried on, walking at a leisurely pace and even as I write this, I find myself slowing down and not wanting yet to arrive.
We walked along a quiet and peaceful promenade that ran parallel to the beach.
Then we came across a sign for the Finisterre lighthouse (faro in Spanish and it’s called Fisterra in Galegan, the local dialect of the region) and it marked the last mile of my 500 mile walk.
Just as we started the slow uphill climb, I heard some honking and looked over and there were Doug and Shelly! The Pilgrims I met on Day 1 and ran into repeatedly at different times along the Camino!
Incredible Camino timing!!! We gave each other big hugs, chatted a bit and then they told us to enjoy our last bit of the Camino and we all said goodbye. Then as we continued walking, I looked ahead, and there was a Pilgrim walking towards me. It was Emma from England, the lovely woman I had met during my first week of the Camino, and we had made that earlier dinner with the other female travelers! The Camino was providing again and in my last part of it, I was getting the incredible opportunity to see some of my favorite Camino friends again!
Emma’s husband had just flown in from England to celebrate her accomplishment with her. We gave each other hugs and planned to get a drink together up at the end by the lighthouse.
Rob and I carried on. And then we arrived!
When I had arrived in Santiago, I felt very happy and overjoyed to be there, but I didn’t get emotional. However, arriving in Finisterre, the true end of my Camino, was different and Rob hugged me as I cried happy tears.
It was all very overwhelming. The place was swarming with tourists, many of whom had clearly just hopped in their cars to visit the famous site for a day trip, but you could see the Pilgrims sprinkled throughout the crowds. They were unmistakable in their quick-dry clothing, battered shoes and full packs. As I walked out onto the furthest promontory, those who had walked it were marked by a quietness as they sat looking out at the ocean.
I walked past an older woman sitting up on top of a rock, and she asked me if I had just walked it. I told her yes and she asked my starting point. I told her St. Jean in France and she told me she had done the same. She told me that she had walked up the Pyrenees one of the days it snowed, and she had experienced hypothermia and was sick and shivering in a bunk bed for days afterwards. She said she had thought her Camino would end there, but a bunch of Pilgrims gave her their blankets, and she recovered. As she walked on, she said had experienced a lot of pain and foot problems along the way, but she had persevered. I congratulated her and told her I was very happy she had made it and that she had a lot to be proud of. She said, “Rachel congratulations to you and so do you.” We gave each other smiles that spoke quietly of our shared experience and I left her to enjoy the satisfaction of her accomplishment.
I took off my pack and laid out the gear that were all like old friends and a reminder of what had helped get me there.
We left the promontory to head back to the zero kilometer marker, and we had to wait in line with a funny mixture of Pilgrims and tourists in order to get a picture with the landmark.
Then it was my turn. I had reached the zero kilometer marker and had the calloused, peeling, tattered Pilgrim’s feet to prove it!
Emma was there too and we got pictures together!
Afterwards, Emma, her husband Stewart, Rob and I all got drinks, and we told them we were taking a bus back to Santiago that afternoon, and then catching a flight to the Canary Islands the next morning. Emma said that they had hired a car and were driving up to Muxia, the other famous Camino end point on the water that we didn’t have the extra day to walk to but really wanted to(!). She asked if we wanted to ride there with them and then back to Santiago. The Camino was over and yet it was still providing! We happily accepted and what incredible luck. Muxia was much more scenic and beautiful, and I’m so grateful we got to experience it as well. What an unexpected bonus on our last day!! The landscape and the clouds were surreal.
What an incredible gift that Emma and Stewart gave us! We got back in the car and returned to Santiago. We gave them big hugs and said goodbye. We headed back to the same Monastery we had stayed in before in Santiago and retrieved the suitcase Rob had left there, and I got out some of my things he had brought me which included toe nail polish! The first thing I did upon returning to my room, was to thank my feet by buffing off the calluses and peeling skin and giving myself a pedicure. It was official, with these painted feet, I was no longer a Pilgrim.
Endings can be both sad and beautiful and that is how this last day felt. I was sad it was over but I was also relieved to have some time off from the physical grind of walking 6-7 hours every day. Luckily, it still wasn’t time to go back to the real world as Rob and I had 5 days booked at an Air BnB with a pool and a 5-minute walk to the beach on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, and then 3 days in Barcelona where we were meeting up with our friend Suzanne. Also, my Pilgrim friend Gustavo happened to live on the island we had booked, so we had a fun tour guide awaiting us.
The Camino provided so much in so many ways that I’m still processing it all, but here are some quick reflections on what the Camino meant to me and how I think it might have changed me:
>I feel like I am better now at slowing down and quieting my impatience that can needlessly cause me daily aggravation and stress.
>I’m a walker now. I plan to incorporate walking into my life every day, even days when I’m tired or don’t think I have time. I want to head into my next decades healthy, strong, and getting there on my own two feet. I will also continue to seek out and walk more Caminos. I have not seen the last of a bunk bed or a blister!
>Spain is part of me. It transformed me in my mid 20s and it did it again in my late 40s. A Spanish woman told me, “Raquel, tienes el alma y el corazón de una española (Rachel, you have the soul and heart of a Spaniard). It was a beautiful compliment. Spaniards live in the streets (not shut up in their homes), they hang out in large groups of friends and extended family, they are loud at times all talking at once, they like to party, and they have many festivals and holidays throughout the year to do all these things together. I love my country, my state, and my city, and I also love Spain and speaking the beautiful language of Spanish. The day after I returned to SF, I enrolled in two intermediate-level Spanish classes at SF City College: one that will focus on grammar and writing and one on conversation. So come fall, the Camino has also made me a student again!
>I know now that I need to unplug way more and get out in nature. Less TV, less movies, less Facebook, even less music when I walk. And more nature. SF is a beautiful and lively city but I don’t think humans were meant to be surrounded by so much concrete all the time. Walking out in nature with no cars and no buildings is like drinking in a cure when I didn’t know I was sick.
>Don’t sweat the small stuff. Seriously, excuse my language but let that shit go!
>Do not underestimate the power of the mind and human will. I saw repeated lessons of this on the Camino. I saw all kinds of people walking the Camino: old, young, overweight, injured. I met many who were overcoming serious physical injuries and they walked on. I met some who said they were not at all in shape and they walked on. The notion that you can do anything you set your mind to is real. It is powerful. Believe it.
>The Camino is a repeated lesson of the importance of people, community and the value of being kind to each other. People matter, stuff doesn’t. I want to move forward with the guiding philosophy that love should always win and lead all choices and decisions, big and small. When in doubt, I will try to always err on the side of kindness and compassion.
>Oh and travel. I was a traveler before but I have only just scratched the surface. I want to travel more and for longer periods of time and I sure am not afraid of a little rough travel now. The world is a big place and a plan to see a lot more of it!
Speaking of travel, here are some pictures from our post-Camino vacation in the Canary Islands and Barcelona. Such fun times with great people. I can’t wait for the next adventure!
And on my last day in Barcelona, I got to meet up with my Barcelona Camino friend Manuel and meet his lovely wife. A perfect conclusion to an amazing trip.
And then back on home to my crazy, frenetic, vibrant city…I was one small changed fish returning to her big bustling pond: